They're back

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Undeterred by their conviction in Federal court, Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson of the Typo Vigilantes Typo Eradication Advancement League are in Philly.

They're on tour to promote their book, The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time, which chronicles their epic saga of peevish vandalism heroic resistance to "the creeping menace of carelessness".

In fact, it seems that they learned something from their brush with the law:

The experience ended the practice of "stealth corrections" and "covert alterations" and led to the formulation of the "Third Rule of Typo Hunting" (Don't Be a Jerk) and such corollaries as Always Ask Permission and Be Courteous and Deferential.

Our previous coverage of this pair certainly suggests that the "Third Rule of Typo Hunting" is a step forward — here's one of their pre-conviction dispatches from San Francisco:

I got the attention of a girl at the counter. “Hi there. I noticed that elegant was spelled wrong on your sign.”

She checked it out. “No, that’s right. E-L-E-G-E-N-T.”

“A-N-T,” said a couple of nearby customers at the same time Julie said it.

“Oh, really,” said the girl.

"Yeah,” I said. “Would it be possible for you to fix it?”

A couple of her male co-workers had been hovering nearby during this exchange, and now one of them stepped forward aggressively. “Are you actually here to buy anything, man?”

“Just some peace of mind,” I said.

“You won’t find that at Starbucks,” he muttered, and backed off.

Judging from the opening paragraphs of their new book, Deck and Herson are themselves at risk of a visit from MMEAL (the Mixed Metaphor Eradication Advancement League):

Any day I could get into my iron steed and — escape. I hadn't, so far, but I could. I could explore the country, embark on towering adventures, and simultaneously fulfill some noble purpose. Yes, a road trip seemed like a fine idea, but I didn't know what was worth seeing and, more crucially, I didn't know how to infuse the trip with the sparkling sap of magnificence. How do people blunder into conditions that their unique abilities alone can resolve? […]

Unlike my classmates, I hadn't erected any schools for Balinese orphans or wrested any kittens from death's blasting maw.

Despite our earnest attention to their exploits over the years, I'm sorry to say that Deck and Herson didn't stop by to say hi. Maybe next time.


  1. MJ said,

    August 17, 2010 @ 11:07 pm

    Patricia O'Conner writes in a blurb that “In this seriously funny–and seriously thoughtful–book, a simple typo hunt becomes something more: an investigation into the deeper mysteries of orthographical fallibility." Does anyone know what these deeper mysteries of orthographical falliblilty are that she refers to?

    [(myl) Surely for someone who sets out in an iron steed infused with the sparkling sap of magnificence, deeper mysteries of orthographic fallibility will soon fall like a spring rain of low-hanging fruit, don't you think? (Really, I have no idea what those deeper fallibilities might be — but the SF Starbucks story suggests that once they let up on the purple prose a bit, they might have some interesting tales to tell.) ]

  2. Jan Freeman said,

    August 17, 2010 @ 11:23 pm

    I reviewed the book two weeks ago, and I have to say it was not crashingly dumb (unlike the Facebook-group spinoff, "I Judge You When You Use Bad Grammar.") But like that "book," it can't escape the fact that typos in signage across America are not especially interesting or varied. These guys got lucky when the feds came after them for correcting ("defacing") a historic sign at the Grand Canyon: suddenly they had a plot, a crisis, a denouement! Anyway, the overblown metaphors are intentional self-mockery (well deserved, you may say, but not accidental).

  3. Debbie said,

    August 17, 2010 @ 11:35 pm

    Perhaps they would like to edit my book? I sat with my husband as he read an early draft and would ask what amused him each time he laughed. four times out of five it was the typo's! There is a career for people who are good at proof-reading…it's called a copy editor and I'd gladly submit my work and myself by extention to such criticism.

  4. Twitter Trackbacks for Language Log » They’re back [] on said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 12:08 am

    […] Language Log » They’re back – view page – cached Undeterred by their conviction in Federal court, Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson of the Typo Vigilantes Typo Eradication Advancement League are in Tweets about this link […]

  5. Nathan said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 1:05 am

    Glad to help, Debbie.
    As the first word in the sentence, "four" should be capitalized.
    The word is "typos"; we just add s for the plural.
    There should be a comma after "editor".
    The correct spelling is "extension".
    Also, I personally would set off "and myself by extension" with some punctuation, but I suppose it's optional. Is there a style guide you would prefer to use?

  6. a George said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 3:09 am

    Re: correcting typos. I frequently reply to e-mails in dialogue form: interjecting my comments into the mail I have received. I have an irresistible urge (which I yield to, Oscar Wilde-like) to correct any typos in the section I am commenting on. It is not a question of feeling superior; it is more a question of uniformity. If the mail is American and writes 'aluminum', I use 'aluminum' in the reply.

  7. Xmun said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 4:57 am

    Correction of typos is permissible in only two circumstances:
    1. You own the book (or other piece of text) in which you are doing it.
    2. You are employed as a proofreader.
    Or — thirdly — your name is Nathan and you are writing a comment on someone else's comment in Language Log.
    Or — fourthly — you are reading the label of some condiment or other on the kitchen table (in which case you are merely making merry about the faults you find, not trying to correct them).

  8. Faldone said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 7:57 am

    @Nathan. Re: your third comment on the comma you believe should be after editor. Is that some rock bound rule or is it just an individual style choice? I've seen this rule stated before; it; doesn't make any sense to me but I am willing to be enlightened. Do the AP style book and the Chicago Manual of Style agree on this?

  9. Rodger C said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 8:08 am

    Surely it's a general rule to put a comma before "and" between independent clauses?

  10. Lance said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 8:18 am

    Rodger: sometimes you must and sometimes you needn't.

  11. richard howland-bolton said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 8:23 am

    I followed the link from the previous article 'conviction in Federal court' to their site, and found them to be somewhat inconsistent themselves when it comes to punctuation.
    [no period]
    [comma but no period]
    [both with periods]

    I screen-dumped that part of their page, but I don't see how to upload it here.

  12. Wilmar said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 8:29 am

    Avoid grammar lynchings, leave it to the state.

  13. Mark P said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 8:33 am

    I laugh at language errors all the time. I make so many myself that I am constantly amused.

  14. Jac said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 8:41 am

    Mark P

    Thank you.

  15. Mary Bull said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 9:12 am

    When I was 20-something, I spent about 4 years as a manuscript editor for Abingdon-Cokesbury Press here in Nashville and found it very enjoyable work. Now I make so many typos and other errors of my own that I don't know how I ever held down that job.

    Never heard of these crusaders before, however.

    I'm mostly adding my 2 cents to this discussion in order to register one of my pet peeves, "extention" for "extension" — so nicely caught by Nathan in his helpful response to Debbie. One of my favorite pieces of software has "extention" in one of its menus. Drives me crazy. I've seen other software writers spell it this way, too. I really should get over myself, I think!

  16. David L said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 9:28 am

    a George said:
    I frequently reply to e-mails in dialogue form: interjecting my comments into the mail I have received. I have an irresistible urge (which I yield to, Oscar Wilde-like) to correct any typos in the section I am commenting on.

    Oh, c'mon, I don't think you really try very hard to resist that urge, do you?

    It is not a question of feeling superior.

    Nope, not buying that either.

  17. Mr Fnortner said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 9:52 am

    Resisting the urge to correct others' typos (inter alia) is good for the soul and builds character.

  18. Dick Margulis said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 10:06 am

    We peevologists have a hobby that usually keeps us out of court (exception noted) and that provides many of us with a decent living as copyeditors and proofreaders (two different occupations, of course). It has little or nothing to do with language, which seems to be what linguists most typically concern themselves with, but rather has to do with a set of social conventions around the writing system we use to record and transmit thoughts originally formulated using language. Linguists peeving about peevologists seems a bit hypocritical to me, in that their manners in doing so are no better than those of we whom they so frequently demean.

    [(myl) Peeving about peevologists? Who, us? No, no, we're celebrating them (in H.L. Mencken's sense)!]

  19. Dick Margulis said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 10:26 am


    In Bill the Cat's immortal words^H^H^H^H^Hletters, Thbbft!

  20. John O'Toole said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 11:00 am

    "…those of we…" (insert here the raised-eyebrow mark of punctuation–it's called the "supercilly" in advanced typographer circles)? Wait, you're having a piss-take at you and your brethren and sistren? No, wait, it's a tragic auto-goal. No, wait, it is a misspelling for "wee," as in "the little humble ones." No peeving (heaven forbid!) intended, just a little gentle poking in the ribs.

  21. Debbie said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 11:27 am

    Thanks Nathan, you made me smile and admittedly most errors were carelessness and exhaustion. Assuming the style guide comment wasn't sarcasm, I wish such was available to me. I am blind and my adaptive software makes it difficult at times to find punctuation within text. As for copyeditors, isn't this the last edit before galley copy and print thus making a career for our friends in the article?

  22. Theodore said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 11:38 am

    Elegent, hmm…

    What would it take to add a "schwa" to the English alphabet? Imagine the peeving that would cease once everybody is empowered to correctly spell reduced vowels all the time.

  23. Mr Fnortner said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 11:47 am

    @John O'Toole, you've found an incorrection, and close by is a near incorrection (whom). The sentence would have emerged better had the case of the two pronouns been reversed: "us who".

  24. Mary Bull said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 11:50 am

    My sympathies to you on your vision problems.

    You're correct, as I'm sure you already knew, that — at least in book publishing — the copy editor is the last one to see the manuscript before it's set in type. As a manuscript editor all those years ago, I had the responsibility for both the editing and the proofreading. I'd get chided if I let too many mistakes slip through to the galleys. But if I missed those errors again in the galleys, the wrath of the Editor in Chief was likely to descend upon me. Resetting a galley was fairly acceptably inexpensive.

    Remaking a copper plate because of a mistake in the page proof would noticeably affect the bottom line. Even a non-profit publishing house does watch that bottom line. :)

  25. a George said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 12:05 pm

    Re: good uses of typos. If I could find a previously unknown literature reference in a database I was doing a good job. I then started to search with deliberate errors in the keywords, and lo and behold: I did find things nobody else had found before in a search. Simple Google searching destroys this possibility and it also gives me singulars where I had specified plurals.
    @ David L: now, this was something that made me feel superior.

  26. Dick Margulis said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

    @John O'Toole

    No, it was a deliberate trap to see who was paying attention.

    Yeah, that's what it was. Uh-huh. Definitely that.

  27. Dick Margulis said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 12:38 pm


    The copyeditor edits the copy—that is, the manuscript—at the niggling detail level. Typically a production editor or the author can review and reject changes made by the copyeditor.

    The proofreader reads proofs—that is, typeset galleys (largely a thing of the past) or pages—to search mostly for typographical errors. Some confusion arises because if the copyeditor missed something, the proofreader may bring it to the attention of the editor or author.

    The main takeaway is that these two steps are done at different points in the process.

  28. Debbie said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 1:57 pm

    Thanks everybody for your help and advice and thanks especially to Mark for allowing this somewhat off topic discussion. (Sorry to have started this segue!)

  29. Peter said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 8:14 pm

    @John O'Toole: That doesn't look like an error. I believe the last sentence should be parsed as:

    Linguists peeving about peevologists seems a bit hypocritical to me, in that their manners in doing so are no better than [the manners] of we who they so frequently demean.

  30. MikeM said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 10:52 pm

    Meanwhile, I'm looking for new members for my Committee for the Abolition of Contrived Acronyms.

  31. Cialan said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 11:55 pm


    Excellent suggestion. We can place the new letter ə on the ` or ; keys, since nobody much uses those anyway. Or we can place it on the Q, and just resort to spelling words with "qu" as "kw" instead, which would probably be one of our next spelling reforms anyway, along with "ks" for "x" to free up another key for more English vowel sounds. I'm sure everyone would agree that ə is much more common and important than Q or X. Now, what do we do about a capital ə? And what about people who pronounce some əs as a high schwa or other variants?

    I'm sure with enough logical revisions like this, English would get totally unreadable very quickly, almost like text messages. Which reminds me… where will the ə be on a phone? ;)

  32. Will said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 11:57 pm

    kudos @MikeM

  33. Lugubert said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 4:54 am

    Cialan, on my Swedish 102 keyboard there's an assortment of keys that are redundant. To the best of my knowledge, I have never used the ¤ 'currency symbol'. And then I've got two keys each for minus, slash, asterisk and plus. Not even twice in a year I have to use the 'pipe' |. I'm not into Inuit (or where?) so I need no capital schwa.

    Anyway, when working in MSWord I can always make macros for exotic Latin combination like Pinyin ü with tones.

    I do, however, make good use of the ; and `. I regard myself a member of the illustrious society "Friends of the semicolon". A very democratic lot, having no membership fees or rules except for using the ; whenever even slightly appropriate. August Strindberg liked ;s. Good enough for me.

    And we have a fair number of French borrowings that require the grave accent. For example, especially us fossils still prefer à to @ for prices and the like.

  34. Rodger C said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 9:44 am

    @Mary Bull: "Alright" is in Word's dictionary. And was it Word or WordPerfect–I've modified my own Word dictionary, so I can't check–that allowed "Glyph" only in the singular and only with a capital G? I always supposed that "Glyph" must have been the name of some game unknown to me, and that the programmer knew the word only in that context.

  35. W. Kiernan said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 6:28 pm

    "Elegent" is clearly not an error but a deliberate portmanteau, meaning "guys like Fred Astaire." I don't know what that has to do with coffee though. If the idea is "drink this latte and ladies will admire you" it seems like they're promising too much.

  36. groki said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

    Lugubert: I'm glad to hear of the "Friends of the semicolon" society; I too enjoy ";" and would hate to see it lost; but I only counted 3 in your posting; and they were all "mention" rather than "use"; better check if your membership's current! ;)

    (incidentally, the pipe "|" is exceedingly handy on the unix command line, so code jockeys will be riding that one for a while yet.)

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